The protagonist of The Heroes of Arvine Place is an aspiring children’s book author and widower looking for his big break, struggling to take care of his two young daughters and scraping by between menial day jobs, loans from family members and free services from friends.
The film moves at a languorous, north-Florida pace befitting a narrative pocked with personal setbacks with cinematography, soundtrack and script creating a dirge barely buoyed by stubborn hope. Garish Christmas lights in a lush, subtropical setting create a sense of unreality that will be familiar to anyone who has encountered professional failure while assuming that impeccable talent and auspicious timing will carry them through.
Written and directed by UNC School of the Arts graduate Damian Lahey and set in his native Jacksonville, it’s a safe bet that this film has more than a little bit of autobiographical underpinning.
The Heroes of Arvine Place doesn’t take itself too seriously, and maybe plays up the comedic aspect of creative misfortune a little too much. “One Tree Hill” alum Cullen Moss doesn’t exactly explode out the gate in the lead role of Kevin Hedges, but he ably plays the character’s turns of frustration, anxiety and humanity, convincingly portraying a character who is basically just holding it together.
The chemistry Moss displays with Celia Marvele Dusinberre and Bella Myers as the Hedges girls is particularly good, with the single father and daughters revealing flashes of wit and wisdom that convincingly renders a challenging but loving family setting.
Other supporting cast in the roles of Kevin Hedges’ siblings and friends also deliver mostly satisfying performances. The memorable characters include two sisters who are respectively a tough-as-nails tattooist and a mentally unstable woman getting her life back together, an emotionally distant brother who acts as financial benefactor, an auto mechanic and a shambling illustrator stuck in perpetual adolescence and living at home with his mother. The graceful subtext of Lahey’s story emerges from the personal flaws of each member of the ensemble, not least being the main character, and the way they rise however clumsily to help one another surmount their respective difficulties.
Hedges’ children’s book itself is a wonder to behold, embedded like a jewel of short animation within the larger film. It soars with a dramatic power that the overall narrative lacks, grounded as it is in humdrum realities. Suffice it to say that the storyline and illustration of the children’s book are worthy of the real thing.
Lahey’s storytelling drives the film to its entertaining conclusion at a children’s book festival that holds the potential to extend the proverbial “big break.” With sparkling dialogue and an unexpected plot twist, the film ends on a redemptive note and delivers a revelation of sorts that reinforces the theme of mutuality humming just below the surface throughout the story.
The Heroes of Arvine Place screens at UNCSA Gold on Saturday at 1 p.m., A/perture 2 on April 6 at 4:30 p.m. and Hanesbrands Theatre on April 7 at 5 p.m.
— Jordan Green